One Sawa Leader + Six days = Over One Thousand Girls...

One Sawa Leader + Six days = Over One Thousand Girls Empowered to Stay in School

Many schoolgirls in Uganda are forced to stay home and miss classes if they can’t afford feminine hygiene products. “No money, no pads, no school,” says Sawa youth Reporter Sheila Ampumuza. In their most recent report, Sheila, the video editor, and fellow Sawa Youth Reporter, Tito Mukiibi, document Olivia Damalias’ unique and innovative way to alleviate this challenge. 

Olivia is a Sawa Leader in Uganda that is making a difference at a local level. For this trip, Tito tagged along with Olivia for six days to capture some of her outreach activities, and observe first-hand the positive impacts that one person can have on a community. 
“This is just a simple solution,” says Sawa Leader Olivia Damalias, as she explains to a crowded classroom of girls how to make reusable sanitary pads. However, this “simple solution” has enormous impact. In just six days, Olivia was able to teach over 1,000 girls how to make reusable pads. In the video, Olivia explains the process is easy, low cost, and even made from available local materials.
While the girls often have to hold back their nervous giggles, Olivia’s demonstration is no laughing matter. The cost of feminine hygiene products is a barrier to education for many girls. A pack of six sanitary pads can cost about $1.30. Some families living in extreme poverty have to support their families on less than $1 a day. The high cost forces many to skip school or substitute pads or tampons for less safe and less absorbent materials such as rags, newspaper, or even bark.
To complicate matters, these young women have to deal with the cultural barriers associated to menstruation. For generations, the time to marry has been directly linked to a woman’s ability to conceive a child. At this stage of a woman’s life, her primary role is to become a wife and mother.
These cultural restrictions are often masked by the expense of these necessary toiletries. The deeper issue remains in the community, and the communities desire to control female roles through menstruation. Due to these cultural beliefs, UNICEF states that one in ten schoolgirls in Africa miss classes or eventually drop out completely due to their periods (WHO, 2010, p.7). Olivia’s ability to go to the communities and teach these young women how to make reusable pads is an innovative way to empower young women; offering them sustainable options to help them make better choices for themselves.
Olivia tells the girls, “If the time comes don’t cry and refuse to go to school or think there’s a problem (or ask) why did I become a woman?”  By teaching students how to make reusable feminine hygiene products, Olivia is helping to decrease absenteeism in schools and help ensure the future of women’s education.
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World Health Organization.(2010). How to integrate water, sanitation and hygiene into HIV programs. Retrieved April 10th, 2012 from: